This month’s blog is about tail questions. I always pick a topic to write about based on student reactions in the classroom. If I find that some students find certain things difficult to understand, then I write about them in the blog. Tail questions are sometimes difficult for some students.

A tail question is basically a question that we put at the end of a statement. We use a tail question when we think something is true or we believe something is true and we want somebody to confirm that we are right. For example, if somebody looks tired or we think that they are tired we can say “you’re tired, aren’t you?” The words “aren’t you” is the tail question. We already know that the person is tired based on how they look but we ask them to confirm that what we believe is true. If somebody is breathing heavily, it usually means that they have been running, so we can say “you’ve been running, haven’t you?” At this point we expect the person to say “yes, I have.” If they haven’t been running, we would be surprised but we would expect them to tell us that they have been doing some other form of physical activity that made them out of breath.

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We make a tail question by repeating the auxiliary verb from the main part of the sentence and putting it in the question form. For example, “you will be here tomorrow, won’t you?” Notice that the auxiliary verb in the main part of the sentence is ‘will’ and therefore we use it in the tail question and put it in the question form. The question form is the structure that we use to make a question; we put the auxiliary verb before the subject and say “won’t you”, NOT “you won’t”.

If the auxiliary verb is positive in the main part of the sentence, we make it negative in the tail question. If the auxiliary verb is negative in the main part of the sentence, we make it positive in the tail question. For example, “she has a cat at home, hasn’t she?” In that sentence the auxiliary verb ‘has’ is positive in the main part of the sentence and negative in the tail question. Here is another example, “he can’t sing, can he?” In this sentence the auxiliary verb is negative in the main part of the sentence and positive in the tail question.

If the auxiliary verb is positive in the main part of the sentence, we make it negative in the tail question. If the auxiliary verb is negative in the main part of the sentence, we make it positive in the tail question. For example, “she has a cat at home, hasn’t she?” In that sentence the auxiliary verb ‘has’ is positive in the main part of the sentence and negative in the tail question. Here is another example, “he can’t sing, can he?” In this sentence the auxiliary verb is negative in the main part of the sentence and positive in the tail question.

The most important thing to remember about tail questions is that we use them when we are sure that we are right and we want another person to confirm that we are right. All you have to do is use the auxiliary verb from the main part of the sentence and put it in the question form. If it is positive in the main part, then it is negative in the tail question and if it is negative in the main part, then it is positive in the tail question. Don’t forget to use ‘do’ if there is no auxiliary verb in the main part of the sentence.

Practice these tail questions in conversation.

Glenn Harman

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